The 'Craft School Experience' is a phrase and an education/advertising initiative launched by a handful of the residential craft schools in the United States. I have had the joy over the last 5 years to spend some time at Penland and just last week I experienced Peters Valley School of Craft for the first time. This time, I was taking a class to learn the technique of Ondule weaving from Amy Putansu. I have taken two other courses from Amy in the last 4 years, so I knew that educationally, the class would be exceptional. Amy has also become a friend over this time, so I knew the company would be great.
Some people have a real gift for teaching. My mom is one of these people. All my life I have watched her formulate teaching plans, materials, and research the things she teaches (even before she was formally a teacher). She has a real gift of adapting to a student or a group of students, identifying what each student needs and what approach or direction will make the subject clear to him or her. She is willing and able to adapt, shift, add elements and remove elements to make the experience work for the students. Not all teachers can do this.
Amy Putansu is one of the few other teachers whom I have witnessed working in this way. Amy works very hard. She prepares for a class with research, materials, learning goals, and potential extras but then she pays close attentions to each student during introductions and throughout the class. She is very conscientious to be sure that each student is absorbing what (s)he can, is being stretched to grow further, and is not feeling too overwhelmed.
Amy has been studying Ondule for about a dozen years. She has researched it and has presented on the topic internationally. She has developed her own method of altering her loom to work with the special reed that allows her to bend the warp yarns in such a way to create undulating cloth. This cloth breaks the rigid 90-degree warp and weft intersections 'inherent' to woven cloth. After years of study and practice of the technique in her own work, this class at Peters Valley was her first time teaching the technique to others.
We were a nice, smallish-sized class - five students. Amy had access to three of these special reeds, so we collectively warped 3 looms and the five of us wove samples round-robin style. Each of the three reeds were a bit different and each warp was a different fiber type (linen, silk, cotton/metallic blend). We also learned about color manipulations that we could use to emphasize or enhance the appearance of the undulation (ikat-type effects, striping, weft-floats, etc.). We participated in the creation of the loom modifications (supplemental breast beams).
We walked away from the workshop with seven+ samples each, knowledge and technique of how to manipulate the weaving process to achieve the effect, plans and/or actual warps for an independent project, and lists of tools, resources, and supply sources to continue our weaving at home.
The craft school experience is broader than just the in-class experiences. Classes in a residential craft school are intense and isolated from most responsibilities and distractions of everyday life. We get to know our classmates deeply and we learn from our classmates as well as the instructor. People in these schools at are different points in their art and skill development. People approach their work differently - some are largely hobbyists (like myself), some are still in school or freshly out-of-school, while others are working studio artists. Crafts schools are largely communal in structure: you are housed with artists/students studying in the other media of the school; you sit down for 3 meals a day with all of the students, the staff, the instructors and chat about basic life things, or get into in-depth discussions about things that sometimes aren't even directly related to art (global climate change). My experience of these crafts schools (only 2 thus far) are rural/remote settings where everything you need for the duration of the class is in walking distance. I get to experience a fresh morning walk to breakfast; a head-clearing walk to the dining hall for lunch; a deep black darkness of rural night that is darker than it ever gets at my urban home. This past week I saw wild turkey and turkey-chicks every single day. I watched turkey vultures soar overhead and a pair of barn swallows nesting right outside the weaving studio door. There were sightings of black bears right outside some of the studios (but alas, I did not witness that). The spaces we were using have a deep history and felt very present. Peters Valley is nestled in an 1800's village within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
I feel deeply refreshed and inspired by my latest craft school experience. I want to hang onto the spirit and the feelings that have developed over the last week and find a way to build some of the nourishing aspects of the way of life into my daily practice. I want to walk more as transportation. I want to daily observe the world around me (both natural and human) with more sense of wonder and exploration. I want to hang onto the feeling of calm. I know that with this sense of calm, I am better able to be creative and rational.